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Students return to St. Mary's after flooding

Top two floors of Sterling school still can’t be used

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 11:41 a.m. CDT

STERLING – Students returned to parts of St. Mary’s School on Monday after flooding from a broken sprinkler system pipe had closed the school for 3 days.

The pipe broke about noon last Tuesday, when students were already home because of the severe weather conditions. A secretary was the only person at the school when the pipe broke and sent water down a stairwell.

Although the kids were back in school Monday, their day was anything but normal.

The school’s 180 students in grades prekindergarten through eighth grade were confined to the first floor and basement. The second and third floors are still off-limits for what could be a couple of weeks.

“Floors two and three are still being cleaned,” said Jeannie Ramos, the school’s office manager and bookkeeper. “The electrical has all been checked out, but the elevator repairman is still there.”

All of the classes are being held on the first floor and in six previously unused classrooms in the lower level.

The school is actually two buildings that are connected, which has come in handy, Ramos said.

“We still have the gym for PE classes, the cafeteria, and the library is OK,” she said.

Another big change for students is that they won’t be able to move around as much as they are used to.

“We’re trying to make sure the kids are staying put, so the teachers are floating from classroom to classroom,” Ramos said.

Ramos said students seemed glad to be back and had adjusted well to all of the changes.

“The kids have been great,” she said. “They looked at it as an adventure, and many said they thought it was cool.”

Not so cool is all the work that still must go into fixing and cleaning everything. Complicating matters is the amount of work the cleaning services are juggling, as the recent weather-related disasters have piled up.

“We’re using Supreme [Cleaners Inc.] out of Dixon, and they have been busy at so many other places in the last couple weeks,” Ramos said.

Bob Mezo has run that Dixon cleaning and restoration business for 30 years. He said this stretch ranks among the busiest he has experienced. Supreme crews have been working 7 days a week, and still have had to turn down jobs, he said.

“We have seen lots of frozen water pipes jobs, but I don’t recall it being this cold for this long,” Mezo said. “I’ve never seen this many frozen pipes at one time.”

While he said last spring’s flooding had his staff of 15 much busier, the winter jobs pose their own unique challenges.

“We dried out more than 100 homes from the flooding, so that was much worse,” Mezo said. “In the winter, though, you’re fighting the elements and hauling heavy equipment around on ice.”

The St. Mary’s job was a tough one that took 12 of his crew and several others from the school, Mezo said.

“It’s very labor-intensive work,” he said. “You usually have to remove ceilings and walls.”

Principal Rebecca Schmitt said the insurance company was there right away to start assessing the damage, but that will require teachers to get back into their rooms to take inventory. One of the hardest-hit areas was the school’s computer lab.

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